Minnie Q. Thief

Like THE BIRDS, MARNIE was released by Universal on DVD in the wrong ratio at first. This was the first time Fiona and I have seen it in widescreen.

MARNIE has an unusually protracted history for a Hitchcock film. Hitch had acquired the novel by Winston Graham around 1960 as a vehicle for Grace Kelly, who expressed her willingness to take time off from being a princess in order to star in it. PSYCHO screenwriter Joseph Stefano began work on a script, but when he was halfway through it became clear that Grace would not be available that year, so he stopped work and Hitch threw himself into THE BIRDS. After completing that project, finding Stefano unavailable, he brought BIRDS scenarist Evan Hunter on board, and Hunter produced a complete script (from Hitch’s fairly detailed scene breakdown) but balked at the idea of the hero raping the heroine. Hitchcock removed Hunter from the project and hired Jay Presson Allen, fresh from her success adapting Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie for the stage. At some point during this gestation, the people of Monaco let it be known that they would not accept their princess playing a sexually dysfunctional thief in a Hitchcock picture, so suddenly Grace was out and Tippi was in.

Winston Graham’s Poldark novels have been adapted by the BBC, and decorated the airwaves in my distant youth (the 1970s): Cornish bodice-ripping yarns, they were. Hitchcock is strangely connected to Cornwall by all the Du Maurier stories set there, although the one time he filmed there it was doubling for the Isle of Man  in THE MANXMAN. With MARNIE, as with THE BIRDS, the English setting would be rewritten for America.

Three films had been made previously in Britain based on Graham stories, including one by Ronald Neame (TAKE MY LIFE), a former camera assistant on BLACKMAIL, and one by Launder and Gilliat (SHE PLAYED WITH FIRE aka FORTUNE IS A WOMAN), the screenwriters of THE LADY VANISHES. Although it doesn’t quite come off, the latter film does seem designed somewhat on the Hitchcock model.

As has often been pointed out, the Hitchcock film MARNIE most relates to is SPELLBOUND: it’s a psychological detective story or, as Hitch says in the trailer, “what one might call a sex mystery, if one used such words.” Role reversal makes the woman the psycho-neurotic character, and imaginative writing changes the investigator from a shrink to a businessman and amateur zoologist (Sean Connery).

A shame Connery didn’t work with Hitch again! They got on extremely well. Hitch said: “He came early, knew his lines, and hit his marks. I was pleasantly surprised. He directed himself and you could always find him.” Connery later recalled that Hitch only offered two pieces of direction: “When I’m listening to another actor I have a tendency to let my mouth hang open, so he would say, ‘I don’t think the audience is interested in your dentistry, Mr Connery.’ And when I’m excited I have a tendency to talk too fast, so he would say, ‘Let’s try that again, only with a few more dogs’ feet,’ by which he meant pauses.”

Since Hitchcock next planned to make MARY ROSE, for which Jay Presson Allen again write the script, and since he planned to star Tippi again, and since the story takes place entirely in Scotland, it’s hard to resist the suspicion that Connery would have been offered a major role. But the failure of MARNIE, and the benign-seeming but ultimately strangulatory control of Lew Wasserman, Hitchcock’s former agent and now his boss at Universal, put paid to all that.

Theory: I don’t think Universal was ultimately very good for Hitch. They meant well, but by their very benevolence they were more restrictive than another studio might have been. Rather than trying to protect the Hitchcock brand, they might have trusted this highly successful, talented and commercially astute man — a major shareholder in the company but unable to make at least two of his dream projects, KALEIDOSCOPE-FRENZY and MARY ROSE.

After another personalized studio logo, the credits unfold to Bernard Herrmann’s strenuous, strident and anxiety-laden theme, which plays like a love theme with a mental block, lurching to spasmodic halts when it seems to aspire to Wagnerian orgasm: the music of tormented frigidity and suppressed longing.

The superb, Langian opening, with the sexy yellow purse tucked under Tippi’s arm (hey, at least it’s not a pink purse) and the angular jut of the railway station, then the dependably beady-eyed Martin Gabel (see and admire his single directorial outing, THE LOST MOMENT) barking “Robbed!” and a helpful cut to the empty safe.

Now, Hitch was increasingly anxious, one can deduce from his comments, about being “old-fashioned” — he’d stayed with the times and even moved ahead with PSYCHO, though in films like NORTH BY NORTHWEST he’d pursued classical rather than current fashions  to avoid his films dating. In interviews at the time he said that montage was now an old-fashioned approach, so the major safe-robbing suspense highlight of MARNIE was staged in a single shot. His falling-out with Bernard Herrmann on his very next movie was based around his desire that the music should provide “a beat and a rhythm” to appeal to the “young vigorous and demanding” audiences of the 1960s. So MARNIE’s precise, formalist opening, which could come straight from a British thriller of the 30s or a Lang one of the 20s strikes me as an odd note to strike.

MARNIE — an excellent film — was, and often still is, terribly undervalued because it is a film out of its time. Older directors can often make the best films, but they seldom make with-it ones, and attempts to do so are frequently embarrassing. MARNIE succeeds best when it is removed from the fashions of 60s film-making.

Why else is MARNIE thought of as, in William Goldman’s words, an awful, awful film? The dodgy matte paintings and fake process shots are often cited, and there is much to be said against them, no doubt, but that’s a pathetic reason to dismiss an entire film. And indeed, if we accepted it as a valid excuse, we’d have to dismiss practically EVERY Hitchcock film. In fact, these minor flaws are more glaring because Hitch had survived into an era of filmmaking that had moved out of the studio and abandoned the special effect as a means of achieving an outdoorsy feeling. So the problem is one of old-fashionedness, and need not concern us anymore, since every other film from 1964 is now old-fashioned too, in one way or another. As the man says at the end of BARRY LYNDON, “They are all equal now.” Except in terms of quality.

In terms of its script, Jay Presson Allen was as harsh about her job of writing for Hitchcock as Evan Hunter had been about his. She felt she wrote long, linear scenes, and had there been more time, more compression could have livened things up. I tend to agree, but the problem isn’t severe. Hitchcock’s weakness for “quirky” humour is evident in the dialogue, and I do blame him, as filteur if not auteur, of the lines.

SPELLBOUND: “You have mogo on the gogo!”

NORTH BY NORTHWEST: “He probably has his suits mended by invisible weavers.”

MARNIE: “I’m Minnie Q Thief!” and “I’m queer for liars,” and “The idea was to kill myself, not feed the damn fish.”

But these are all quibbles.

Marnie washes her hair, the basin fills with squid-ink, Marnie emerges blonde. Fiona scoffs. NO dye could achieve that effect and then just wash out. I ask if it’s bizarre, Hitch including a detail that half the audience would know was bogus. “Not that many women dyed their own hair back then,” mused Fiona. So maybe only the professionals would be scoffing in ’64.

Marnie’s mom’s house: Hitch was very specific about the whitewashed steps in front. Of course, the setting is utterly unreal, but this is intentional. Designer Robert Boyle, quoted in The Wrong House: The Architecture of Alfred Hitchcock by Steven Jacobs, said “Hitchcock was trying to get at something you couldn’t see. He was trying to tell a story of things that are not at all overt… He was trying desperately to really dig into the psyche of this woman.”

Having observed the surreal effect of ship’s masts jutting from above the rooftops with no sign of water, Hitch commissioned a painting of the background. To my way of thinking, the best way to achieve that surrealism would be by photographing the reality: I’d feel cheated in a modern film if the director resorted to CGI masts. But there’s something splendid about the painting, it has a primitive/naive quality, and the diminishing perspective with the ship’s hulk crammed in at the end mirrors the train station shot and adds to the film’s sense of constriction and confinement, forward movement but without a sense of freedom.

Again, a musical motif, the children singing in the street. The number of Hitch films WITHOUT some kind of recurring musical element that’s part of the plot is looking awfully small, as we look back on Hitchcock Year from December. Even some of the silents (THE RING, DOWNHILL) foreground source music.

Very bizarre perf from Marnie’s mom. And gray floral wallpaper: what a great design concept: all the patterns of nature, but with the life sucked out.

Casting: the allegation that the film is miscast in the only two roles that matter would be a devastating  fault if true. But Tippi has grown considerably in ability since THE BIRDS, and she has a great trick of letting her voice crack into shrill, little-girl panic when she yells. Connery is maybe the only man who could make Mark Rutland, the arrogant, over-privileged sexual blackmailer (and rapist) remotely appealing. Even more than the Bond films, MARNIE capitalizes on his ability to be both sympathetic and simultaneously a big swinging dick.

(I’ve been quoting plentifully from interviews in Charlotte Chandler’s It’s Only a Movie, Alfred Hitchcock, A personal Biography, so here’s some more –)

Jay Presson Allen: “The casting of Sean was amusing. We didn’t know who to get for the part, an upper-class Southern man. […] One day he said, ‘They’re making one of those Bond books, and I hear the guy who’s doing Bond is worth looking at. Let’s get some footage.’ So we got all this footage of this incredibly handsome young man with that thick Scottish accent. We looked at each other and just burst into laughter. ‘Let’s take him anyway.’ We had no regrets about that. He was darling.”

Fiona’s response to the young Connery: “Help!”

And Allen wasn’t fazed by writing the rape scene. She didn’t view it as rape, but as marital misunderstanding. Hunter worried about how to redeem the character of Mark for the audience. Allen decided to rely on star charisma. Hedren wondered how she could be frigid against Connery. “Fake it,” advised Hitch.

It’s quite a plot. It has been remarked, and perhaps with some justice, that having Connery’s character blackmail Marnie into marriage — so he can “tame” her by curing her psychological malady — opens up all this interesting stuff about how sick HE is (which Marnie helpfully points out: cue tiny eye-roll from Connery, as if to say “But of course, but we’re not talking about me.”) — which the film then doesn’t have time to get into. Marnie is cured, alright, but she’s now married to this controlling, twisted crazy man. Or has he been healed by helping her? He does find some compassion, I guess.

Hitch is actually somewhat evasive about whether Marnie is genuinely cured or just better informed at the end. And his treatment of the mother is very interesting — adding a touch of compassion here, then taking it away. She’s left alone at the end, a prisoner of her ideas of “decency.” There seems a real push-pull towards/away from sympathy.

Diane Baker sure is cute: again, as in THE BIRDS, I find the brunette more attractive than the blonde, but Tippi has come on as a performer  and isn’t threatened by Baker. And in fact, Baker, who regretted that her character didn’t really have an end note, just dropping out of the story, isn’t really necessary. She attempts to sabotage Marnie by inviting her former boss to a party, but he could easily have arrived by mistake, invited by Dad. Remove Baker’s character altogether and you could shave off ten minutes (the movie is excellent but perhaps a little long) without losing anything except some dull exposition where Baker has to overhear stuff, at enormous length, and become suspicious.

What else don’t I like? Not much. The suicide attempt is frankly absurd, and seems to suggest that Marnie isn’t that distressed and doesn’t really want to die, which is the opposite of the intended effect, as far as I can see. The problem with Mark raping Marnie is less that he does so — he’s something of a swine anyway — than that he’s promised not to touch her, and his motivation for this betrayal isn’t sufficiently clear.

Marnie crashing her horse is filmed by Hitch in a fascinating series of angles, the whole assemblage utterly artificial, and several of the shots containing blatant fakery. A real horse was photographed cantering on a treadmill against the rear projection screen, although in one early shot it seems to be standing still, looking around idly as the scenery scrolls past. If the sequence isn’t as electrifying as it ought to be, it has to do with George Tomasini’s cutting. He died shortly after this movie was released, and I wonder if he wasn’t ailing slightly already. Each shot seems to linger a few frames too long, performing its role in the sequence and then lingering on to break the flow and draw attention to its unreality. Even if the horse legs are stuffed and the rear projection is noticeable, the moment ought to work and be painful just by the power of montage. But it’s a little ungainly.

Against these flaws, and accepting the story’s dollar-book Freud, we have an intriguing story, strong leads, and some real cinematic frissons. The big safe robbery is exciting, with Hitch using a split composition to show the robbery and the threat of discovery in a single frame, and the various dream-psychosis effects are all fascinating.

The hand tap-tapping on the window — pan onto Tippi, who is DREAMING THE HAND — pan onto Connery in the doorway who is really there, but silhouetted to resemble the nightmare-mother. Exponential zoom tromboning the family home as if it were made of elastic. Red-outs flaring up along with surges of Herrmann’s freak-out music. Goofy zooming in and out on money, which is kind of daft, and reminds me of THE BURBS, which repeats the effect and also features Bruce Dern.

Marnie’s childhood hiome is located thanks to an unseen private eye named Boyle, a homage to designer Robert Boyle, who helped Hitch “find” all his houses.

That final flashback… one assumes, with symptoms like Marnie’s and a family history like Marnie’s, and the Freud angle looming over everything… one assumes a background of sexual molestation. Yet Bruce Dern seems like he’s trying to be a nice guy. It’s inappropriate, him fussing over the  daughter of the prostitute he’s just paid for, but he appears to mean well. Kind of odd — having seen THE NAKED KISS, I’m aware that Hitchcock could have implied sordid intent in the Dern character (and why cast Dern otherwise? Not meaning to be unkind, but… you know…) so it’s interesting that he makes the poor sailor basically innocent, and bludgeoned to death as a result of two unfortunate misunderstandings.

I found the ending moving, which is not something I’d say about many Hitchcocks. I think Jimmy Stewart achieves pathos via his concern for Grace Kelly in REAR WINDOW and his disintegration in VERTIGO, but MARNIE aims for deep identification as one of its primary goals and I felt achieved it. Despite appearing outdated to audiences at the time, it also looks forward to developments in European art cinema, in its concern with subjective states of consciousness and the evocation of disturbed emotions through cinematic language. Hitchcock protects himself with a psychological detective story, but the memorable sequences remain mysterious despite the resolution.

Hitch and Horse and the recurring perspective.

The Wrong House: The Architecture of Alfred Hitchcock

UK: Marnie [DVD] [1964]

31 Responses to “Minnie Q. Thief”

  1. Marnie is unusual in many ways. It’s a sex mystery about a woman who uses her body to attract and distract her mark while she robs them but she is also a virgin who hates sex. Then the man who cures her is obviously sexually experienced an iis associated with animals(I can never forget how Connery intones the word, “predators”, it’s brutally senusal or sensually brutal). And there’s no villain in the film. It’s all about the flawed characters. Mainly it’s a really bitter and harsh film. For the first time, the characters in a Hitchcock film are free to be unlikable. I don’t know how casting Grace Kelly would have made that work, with Tippi while we have empathy for Marnie, we aren’t asked to like her and she is a real piece of work. The same with Mark Rutland. Then Diane Baker is also unlikable. And the man who is “Robbed!” is a total hypocrite whose loss of income we neither regret nor mourn.

    So it’s Hitchcock entering whole new territory and succeeding. For me the film is primarily deeply moving. About the way the past has a hold on people and trying to come to terms with that past. It’s also very tragic the way Marnie’s mother tried to protect the daughter from suffering the way she did and the daughter eventually suffering anyway prostituting on her looks if not with her body. So it’s actually feminist and it locates neurosis in a virgin woman rather than a wanton, saying that women need sex.

    It’s also a sharp film about class. The way Marnie is totally alienated and trapped in that pseudo-aristocractic house. That’s the point of the fox hunt, she has more in common with the foxes being hunted than with the people on the horses.

    The film had a huge influence in Europe – Bertolucci, Fassbinder, Wenders, Truffaut and Godard. I heard a story, it might be apocryphal…Roberto Rossellini hated Hitchcock and thought his films were a waste of time until Truffaut and Godard dragged him to see Marnie which he loved.

  2. The opening shot of a vagina is the most audacious in the history of the cinema. So glad you included it here.

    As Marnie walks forward into the shot and away from the camera, her fake hair bounces lightly behind her, just below her neck. This is a clear indication of the fact that this is NOT a film of documentary realism but one of dream and nightmare. The squid ink of the hair dye in the sink is a similar indicator.

    The office, the street in front of her mother’s row house (shades of Terence Davies) and the flashback are among other visual cues that make Marnie “The Cabinet of Dr. Hitchcock.”

    I think Diane Baker gets a great send-off in that shot where she watches Conney and Hedren drive away. And I don’t see her as expenable at all. When you’ve got a sex bomb like Connery, why reserve him for one woman who constantly complains that she doesn’t want him? Baker, while interestingly almost as mercenary as Marnie in some ways, is a pretty normal and very attractive woman. In some ways she’s a stand-in for other women in the audience, who couldnm’t possibly “identify” with Marnie.

  3. Baker saw her purpose in the film as “to make mischief” but there’s really trouble enough without her. I’m not sure women would identify with her more, because she’s typed as the resentful bitch and her methods are so underhanded. She’s not totally dislikable, still, but I suspect her true purpose may be to render “normality” problematic. If regular women are like this, we may HAVE to empathize with Marnie instead.

    You’re both quite right that normal sympathy is short-circuited here, and yet a deeper empathy is produced at the end. I think that’s often the case: if forced to understand somebody who is initially unappealing, we find the harder journey more satisfying.

  4. Your point is well-taken. But in a film with so many conventionally unsympathetic characters Baker ha, I feel, a slight advantage. We all know Marnie’s going to get found out, and coupling it with Lil’s desire for Mark gives it a special edge

    I see her as a forerunner of Joan on Mad Men.

  5. If we compare Diane Baker to say Barbara Bel Geddes and Suzanne Pleshette, it’s a more interesting development of the woman not chosen. She’s a predator in a way that Mark describes Marnie, she wants Mark and she wants to remove Marnie out of the equation. It’s that simple. This behaviour is rendered attractive by Cary Grant in His Girl Friday who humiliates and degrades his competitor and succeeds because he uses underhanded tactics rather than feel guilt for them. So Diane Baker might be unsympathetic but she isn’t evil or especially malicious. Mainly, she isn’t complex as Marnie is or Mark is. Whereas Mark is obviously a man who is comfortable in his social position he is also someone who is sophisticated about people and feels real compassion for Marnie and her mother, which Lil doesn’t seem likely to be capable of. She’s part of her class both literally and culturally.

    One scene that is unusual in Marnie is the one with the stranger at the racetrack. He comes into the film and says he recognizes Marnie and is rebuffed by Sean Connery. In a film directed by an inferior film-maker, this would be one of those plot points that turn up later, either as a blackmail, it would be a threat. In this film, it comes and it disappears and later Marnie explains that she’s been a con artist for a while and quite successful since she never did get caught and derive a criminal record. It’s quite unusual for a film in a culture where everything must be explained and accounted to take that. Hitchcock called such scenes in his movies, “an icebox moment” – “The audience goes home, steps into his kitchen, opens the icebox and then suddenly, “wait what was that all about?”

    I always wondered if Luis Bunuel had anything specific to say about Hitchcock because Marnie anticipates to a great degree the films he made with Catherine Deneuve.

  6. What a joy to read this post! The “dodgy matte paintings and fake process shots” are a plus, and clearly marked every film of the decade save for 2001, which does’nt count because it’s a stop motion film in disguise. Bad mattes got worse as the decade wore on and hit bottom in the mid 70’s. Hollywoods ageing effects men either believed that the public could’nt see through their magic or
    were under severe budget and time constrictions. I believe the former… lucky for us.

  7. Future generations will look back on CGI the same way! It was already obvious that Cameron’s Titantic wasn’t sailing on a real ocean. (It’s amusing to me that Avatar is attracting the same skepticism as Titanic did, but everybody will still go).

    I think the addition of colour and widescreen made rear projection much harder to pull off for things like car scenes. And then the addition of competing films which used locations suddenly showed up the artifice. I don’t notice process shots in 40s films but I sure do in Harper or Marnie or Buddy Buddy.

    Bunuel met Hitchcock, but mainly it was Hitch recounting his pleasure at seeing Tristana: “That leg!” he would say, repeatedly. You can see how he’d like it.

    The guy at the racetrack fits into the narrative without much shoehorning, and allows Connery to be gallant and arrogant at the same time, which he’s very good at. I don’t think Hitch was taking a risk with that one. Indeed, if we accept the Freudianism, the film is surprisingly logical, apart from maybe the thunderstorms and the squid ink.

    Hitch prefigured EVERY aspect of Mad Men, it seems!

    I agree Baker’s character is easier to grasp than either Hedren’s or Connery’s — she’s interesting without being especially complex, and I think audiences would be entertained by her low scheming.So we kind of like her: we know she’s going to cause trouble, which is always fun.

  8. Btw in France it was called Pas de Printemps pour Marnie

    The Seachers was called La Prissioniere du Desert

    The CdC review of Red Desert was called (wait for it)

    Pas de Printemps pour la prissioniere du desert

  9. The Antonioni connection seems very apt! Joe McIlhaney has compared Marnie and The Red Desert, released the same year.

    I like the French title for Rope best: Cocktail pour un Cadavre.

  10. I remember, back in the ’70s, when an affection for “Marinie” among my cineaste friends at school was a matter of nervous joking. One friend said that the blatant artificiality on Tippi-on-the-horse was a way of conveying that, Hedron’s expressions notwithstanding, this was not genuine emotional release for her character. Faux release, instead; *willed* release.

    I always thought of the enormous ship (cf. your image) as an Expressionistic projecting of the enormous importance that the accident involving Dern had on young Marnie’s psyche. (With this and the flashback in Aldrich’s “Charlotte” taken into account, Dern seems to’ve kept quite dodgy company.)

    Perhaps Hedron , walking in that neighborhood, sees hallucinations — with that irritating girl who gets her hair brushed a vision of her earlier self. Kinda “Julie et Celiine” fashion …

    I’ve made no secret about my love for Diane Baker, here and elsewhere. Just ask David E. I’d say that part of her purpose here, given that a union between Marnie and Mark is a desirable think — which is *always* to be questioned — that Baker’s Lil represents a threat to that. She’s someone inside the household who could “see through” Marnie, and thus mess up what Marnie and Mark seem to want. As well as expressing desire for Mr. Lust Object.

    I still love that bit with Baker clutching her wrist, saying “Rat fink … and you misquoted!”

  11. Baker is fabulously feline, and I do enjoy her, but I still wonder if she’s the reason the film is over two hours and slow. The Marnie-Mark relationship is threatened from within anyway. But it’s still an excellent film, and she contributes to that.

    Your interpretation of the ship seems spot-on. And Hitch talked about the need to establish the connection between the docks and the neighbourhood. Everything in Hitch’s plotting also has a character and thematic significance (which is as it should be).

  12. I’ve seen Marnie two or three times, I can’t remember. Every time I reach the last 20% of the film thinking “hey, this isn’t a bad film at all; I don’t understand why it doesn’t have a better reputation; Hitch is in top form here!… and then comes those zooms towards the money in the safe, complete with red tint.

    I can put up with the bad rear projection. I can even appreciate the painted ship in the background of the street. But those zooms… sorry, I can’t.

    Interestingly, Donald Spoto claimed in “The dark side of the genius” that Hitchcock basically sexually harassed Tippi Hedren during the shoot, and when Hedren rejected his advances he lost interest in the film, which explains all the subpar technical solutions in it. When the book was first published in the 80s, I remember reading several pieces in support of this theory (an interview with Melanie Griffith where she confirmed the story, Truffaut’s post-script to the definitive edition of his book mentioning something about the “personal breakup” between Hitch and Hedren), but in the last years I haven’t seen a single word about it: Dan Aulier doesn’t mention this in his “Hitchcock’s Secret Notebooks”… and well, your piece doesn’t talk about it either. What happened? Has Spoto been discredited by further discoveries?

    (BTW, “The searchers” in Spain: “Centaurs of the desert”).

  13. Centaurs of the Desert sounds like John Ford remade by Ray Harryhausen!

    It’s agreed that there was a bust-up between Hitch and Hedren. Although he’d been planning a third film for her, Mary Rose, when that got nixed he kept her under contract and didn’t use her. She complains that he ruined her career by not letting her work elsewhere when she had the offers.

    Brigitte Auber, from To Catch a Thief has gone on the record that Hitch clumsily tried to kiss her, and was then very ashamed. Something similar, but worse, may have happened with Hedren — she’s never really described it. She did get sick of his controlling attitude, and she basically says that’s what the row was about. Hitch said, “Miss Hedren did the unforgivable — she referred to my weight.”

  14. But — there’s no way the FX shots are a result of Hitch losing interest. Spoto isn’t within a mile of the truth there. ALL Hitchcock films, nearly, have dodgy effects shots. Certainly the street scenes of Dial M for Murder are far worse. And Hitch’s collaborators have described how they were aiming for unreality.

    Agree that the money zoom is a bit shoddy looking. In fairness though, I guess nobody had ever done that with a zoom lens before! It may have looked at least novel at the time. But it certainly lacks the elegance of the exponential zoom, which Hitch introduced and which has been used for a number of different effects.

  15. Cairns, I was going to say a few words about special effects, but my post grew as long as my lying nose, so I posted it on my blog instead.

    I have yet to like MARNIE, although I’ve seen it twice. Its psychology just isn’t letting me in. Fingers crossed for future viewings. I like TOPAZ and TORN CURTAIN, actually, although they’re not that great, as Hitch goes. Looking forward to your final Hitchcock Year posts! I’m envious of your ability to plan and execute such an ambitious project, and to yield so many quality close readings.

  16. Link to blog please! I’ll put it in my blogroll.

    This was certainly my best viewing of Marnie. If it’s not a classic, it’s only a short distance off. Hated Topaz apart from a few bits on first viewing, so this’ll be my second encounter. And I’ve never made it through Torn Curtain so it’ll be a first.

  17. A Criterion disc of your choice says you don’t get a third of the way through
    TORN CURTAIN without being completely distracted (thoughts about food, something you forgot to do, tomorrows schedule, wondering aloud about Patrick McGoohan’s feature film directorial debut, CATCH MY SOUL, which here in the US had a wonderful opening credit scroll “Screenplay by Jack Good and William Shakespeare”…You’ll even be saying to yourself “…and his Columbo episodes were so brilliant!” etc etc etc etc etc)

  18. Another great French title, Bigger Than Life is Derriere la Mirroir. The former is perhaps, the quintessential American phrase, while the later expresses the subtext of the film. Behind the Mirror would be too serious for an American film, but if it was marketed in Britain it would have worked.

    A connection with Diane Baker in Another film occured to me last night but I forgot to post it. Her role as a woman in the same class as hero who is passed out for someone outside and tries to scheme and win is analagous to Winona Ryder in The Age of Innocence(and again brunettes)…the difference there is that the person who is neurotic is not the woman, it’s the man and so in that occassion he loses and the schemer wins. That’s one of Scorsese’s most Hitchcockian films, in the way it’s fixed on the character’s subjectivity and how it deals with obsession and erotic tension.

  19. My blog is linked to my name.

    TOPAZ has, if nothing else, one of Hitch’s great silent sequences.

  20. A simple point to make re Baker’s character: It’s nice in a color film to contrast a pretty blonde woman with a pretty dark-haired one. Hitch had already done it in VERTIGO (both of them played by the same dame!), and again in THE BIRDS (Hedren vs. Pleshette), and I’m glad he did it again in MARNIE. Hawks had done it in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES. David Lynch demonstrated the enduring effectiveness of the strategy by casting Laura Dern opposite Isabella Rossellini in BLUE VELVET and Laura Elena Haring opposite Naomi Watts in MULHOLLAND DR.

  21. Two of my favorite MARNIE precursors are CAT PEOPLE (guy marries troubled frigid cat-like woman – Marnie is herself compared to a cat) and John Brahms’s THE LOCKET (pretty neurotic woman with kleptomaniacal tendencies – everything explained by an incident in her childhood). One of the reasons MARNIE may have seemed not “with-it” is that it seems to belong to the same period as those earlier films.

    Joseph Stefano, MARNIE’s original screenwriter and producer/writer of THE OUTER LIMITS, was a big fan of Tourneur’s CAT PEOPLE, and told me he planned to use Tourneur in the show’s second season. Unfortunately, the network fired Stefano at the end of Season 1.

  22. Topaz is seriously flawed but in the post-Marnie decline, it has more ambitious conceits and stylistic innovations than any other film in that period. It’s obviously not a perfect polished film as we have come to expect from Hitchcock but it is still considerably interesting and far superior to most commercial films of that time and ours and for me.

  23. I watched Marnie for the first time last night. It had a few interesting things in it, but it never really grabs you. The stealing of the money has nothing on Psycho. Her reaction to red has nothing on Spellbound, and is really silly if you think about it. Wouldn’t she see red all the time? The stuff with the mother is so weird and overdone.

    About the hair dye, clearly there’s a little dramatic license there. It’s pretty clear that it took her longer to get the dye out, offscreen, but all we really need to know is that she dyed her hair. And of course, the intro to Tippi, which seems to be intended as surprise, but is predictable no matter how you see it.

    It’s a shame that you all hate those mattes, because there was real genius behind some of the matte paintings at the time. These stand out today in a way that they didn’t when they were released, and not just because we’re a more effects-savvy audience. First of all, the color correction used when transferring to video is part of it, especially in the early days of video transfers, which is how most of us saw these films. A lot of these films were just panned and scanned onto video, without anybody there to champion the quality. This still happens in modern effects films, especially in trailers: sometimes they didn’t have the time or money to get the color correction right for the ad.

    Second, the technology now, with HDTVs and Blu-Ray, means that we are watching these films in a way that in their day was impossible. One of the first films I saw on my Blu-Ray was Thunderball, a film I’ve seen a hundred times, but this was the first time it was so clearly not Sean Connery swimming with the sharks. The new HD transfers tend to remove all the grain which makes a matte shot really stand out. The films stocks were different; grainier, with different color schematics. The projectors were not as precise as they are today. It all adds up to make these shots stand out. At the time, they didn’t.

    Not only that, but the matte paintings of the time are so awesome.

  24. Hey, just came across this (awfully written) article that should be of interest to this group. About The Birds remake…


  25. That’s why I hate Blu-Ray.


  26. david wingrove Says:

    Apparently, Hitchcock and Connery hoped to work together again on the film Hitch was planning after FAMILY PLOT.

    Titled THE SHORT NIGHT, it was a spy thriller written by Ernest Lehman and starring Connery and Liv Ullmann. It was due to start shotting in 1979, but Hitch was seriously ill by then so it never happened.

    A pity…but there are worse ways to end than FAMILY PLOT. Just think – it could have been TORN CURTAIN or TOPAZ!

  27. I’m sure glad it was Family Plot, and I haven’t even seen Family Plot. It could have been Frenzy, which is a fairly assured film, but so unpleasant…

    Blu-Rays come in all varieties — removing the grain is absolutely the wrong way to go, since the image IS the grain. The goal should be the same as film restoration, to reproduce as far as possible the intended effect.

    I don’t hate the mattes — I accept that they’re not meant to look 1005 real although I slightly question the thinking behind that. Remember, Hitch is matting things which do exist in the real world and can be photographed in situ. As for the effects not looking fake at the time: my point is that Marnie was critically mauled at the time in part BECAUSE of the effects shots. I don’t think that’s a good reason to dismiss a whole film, but Hitch’s artificial approach was considered old-hat in 1964: that’s a fact of film history which is interesting to consider.

    The comparison to Cat People and The Locket is bang on the money. I think the straight Freudian thriller, which was used a lot in the 40s, may have also seemed dated in the 60s. In a few more years, Hitchcock could have exploited the new permissiveness, which might have given things a kick. But 64 is a strange in-between time for American cinema, where Europe has the edge in this kind of subject.

    I’m looking forward to see if I can make it thru Torn Curtain without getting sidetracked by McGoohanesque irrelevancies. I never managed it before, but then I didn’t have 49 weeks of Hitchcock Year behind me, urging me on to the finish line.

  28. Tony Williams Says:

    I second David E’s comment here since I made the same response when I ran the new DVD of FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE in class some years also. Also, we all know by now, the criticisms concerning the restoration of the Sistine Chapel.

  29. Actually it was David Freeman who was the script collaborator onThe Short Night. He worte quite a wonderful book about it “The Last Days of Alfred Hitchcock” (Overlook Press, 1984) which details all his meetings with Hitch and includes the screenplay. It’s a very insightful and affectionate book and I highly reccomend it.

  30. david wingrove Says:

    David Freeman – where have I heard that name before?

    I did read that Lehman was involved at some stage, but maybe he had ‘creative differences’ with Hitch and dropped out.

  31. Lehman wrote a draft of The Short Night, basically treating it as North by Northwest 2, then Hitch fell out with him and started from scratch with Freeman. It’s a sad story: the clock was ticking, there was a short window in which Hitch might have been able to make another film before his health failed, and Lehman was very aware of it. Lehman really didn’t want Family Plot to be the last Hitchcock, even though he’d written it.

    Then Freeman took over… and time ran out.

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